Vietnam dissenter jailed for 8 years for Facebook posts criticising handling of pandemic

A critic of the Vietnamese government was sentenced to eight years in prison for "anti-state activities" after he shared social media posts skeptical of the Communist party's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bui Van Thuan, a 41-year-old online honey salesman and chemistry teacher, was detained in August 2021, days after he posted a comment on Facebook questioning the Vietnamese authorities after locals began panic buying ahead of a lockdown.

The Communist Party in Vietnam retains tight media censorship and tolerates no dissent, in a blatant violation of human rights.

A court on Friday handed Mr Thuan the prison sentence after a two-day trial in the northern province of Thanh Hoa. He will be placed under house arrest for five years after he serves his sentence, said his lawyer Dang Dinh Manh.

He was charged with “making, storing, disseminating or propagandising information, materials and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam".

Mr Thuan routinely denounced the Nguyen Xuan Phuc government on different issues, including official pressure by authorities to compel people to vote in national elections and the administration’s handling of Covid-19.

In one post titled “Doing the math for the Communist Party” on 21 August last year, he argued that the government’s plan to send soldiers to Ho Chi Minh City to shop for people during the lockdown was not feasible.

He was arrested nine days later.

In September this year, the People’s Procuracy of Than Hoa province in the indictment said that between 2016 and 2021, Mr Thuan used two Facebook accounts to spread "distorted information to defame Ho Chi Minh and other state and party leaders of Vietnam".

It said that Mr Thuan posted 105 articles on the two Facebook accounts, of which 27 had content that was against the government.

The indictment also claimed that during the investigation Mr Thuan admitted to creating and using several Facebook accounts.

Trinh Thi Nhung, the wife of the jailed dissenter, said: “All charges against Bui Van Thuan are based on accusations and evidence that does not belong to Thuan.”

“I do not see Thuan confessing to any crime at any point in this indictment,” she told Radio Free Asia.

Last month, Vietnam said authorities had tightened regulations to deal with "false" content on social media platforms so that it must be taken down within 24 hours instead of 48 hours previously.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, criticising the trial said: "The Vietnamese government's baseless prosecution of Bui Van Thuan for Facebook posts demonstrates the extent of its disregard for free expression."